As events are held throughout the UK to mark Armed Forces Day, Channel 4 News learns there is growing disquiet over the effect of budget cuts on morale within the British Army.
The Scottish capital, which is this year’s official host city, saw a parade of military personnel, veterans and cadets down the Royal Mile. It was attended by Prince Charles, David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
The parade ended with a short ceremony of thanks, at which the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall – who are known as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay when they visit Scotland – met veterans and service personnel.
A moment of silence was held at the Falklands Memorial Garden in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. Members of the South Atlantic Medal Association lay a wreath in honour of their comrades who did not return.
Armed Forces Day provides an opportunity to pay thanks to the men and women who serve this country. Liam Fox, Defence Secretary
Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: “Armed Forces Day provides a unique opportunity for us all to pay thanks to the men and women who serve this country with such distinction.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband echoed that sentiment: “Armed Forces Day is an important opportunity for us all to recognise and pay thanks to the commitment, sacrifice and patriotism of our armed forces past and present, in Afghanistan and Libya and all around the world.”
The head of the armed forces, General Sir David Richards, said: “I can assure you that the recognition and thanks given by the people in communities such as yours on Armed Forces Day goes a long way to keep morale at a high level.”
Senior captains and junior majors that are essential to the delivery of operational capability are deciding it’s time to go. Bob Seddon
But today’s events come amid stories of low morale within Britain’s armed forces because of budget cuts. Recent reports have suggested that the army’s best and brightest are becoming disillusioned.
Former head of the British Army’s bomb disposal team, Colonel Bob Seddon, told Channel 4 News he was concerned about the number of good people who are leaving the army. “I see some of my senior friends and colleagues who have decided that it’s time to go,” he said.
“But also, critically, going down the ranks, some of those senior captains and junior majors that are absolutely essential to the delivery of operational capability are deciding that it’s time to go. And I must say, it worries me.”
Today’s events follow US President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday that the US is to withdraw 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012.
France’s President Sarkozy said on Thursday that 4,000 French troops in Afghanistan will withdraw in coordination with allies and Afghan officials.
On the same day, Prime Minister David Cameron stated that his 2015 “deadline” for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would only be made where conditions on the ground allow.
“I have already said there will be no UK troops in combat roles in Afghanistan by 2015, and where conditions on the ground allow, it is right that we bring troops home sooner,” Mr Cameron said.
Commenting on this week’s announcements, Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon blogged that “George Osborne formed the view that Afghanistan had to be receding from view by the time of the next election.”